How to Be Your Own Fact Checker

01/31/2017 12:17 pm ET Updated Feb 01, 2018

Yesterday I made an embarrassing mistake. I received an email from a trusted colleague that was a chain letter from one of her trusted colleagues. It asked that I send it on to at least 20 people, requesting them to send it on as well. That way, In three days, everyone in the US who had an email account would have seen it. Maybe even you. It purportedly came originally from Warren Buffet and was called "The Buffett Rule" for cleaning up politics. I won't go into the details but it fooled me and I sent it on to my list of friends, many of whom are nonfiction authors and know a hoax when they see it. I even sent an email to Diane Ravitch, who has occasionally reposted some of my writing and she immediately wrote back saying that Susie Buffett, Warren's daughter, had told her personally that it was not true.

In addition, one of my author colleagues, Laurie, informed us all that it was a phony, citing a few websites and my agent, Susan, gave me a list of websites to check the veracity of any story. I was embarrassed because I should have known better. After all my books are always vetted by experts. And if there was ever a time for vetting, this is it!

I'm being bombarded with emails asking to sign petitions and join rallies and sometimes I haven't a clue about the organization behind it. Plus there are all kinds of emails that smell of propaganda. Yes, I want to participate in these troubling times as a citizen. So now that I've done my mea culpa, I'm passing on some important information for you to determine truth from alt truth. Check out these websites:

"Media Bias/Fact Check (MBFC News) is an independent online media outlet. MBFC News is dedicated to educating the public on media bias and deceptive news practices.

"MBFC News' aim is to inspire action and a rejection of overtly biased media. We want to return to an era of straight forward news reporting.

"Funding for MBFC News comes from site advertising, individual donors, and the pockets of our bias checkers."

We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit "consumer advocate" for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases. Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.

FactCheck.org is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. The APPC was established by publisher and philanthropist Walter Annenberg to create a community of scholars within the University of Pennsylvania that would address public policy issues at the local, state and federal levels.

Politifact.com This Pulitzer Prize-winning site goes to great lengths to explain their process to root out facts from fiction. It is worth reading about here:

Snopes.com focuses on smoking out rumors. They have a search box where you can insert something you've seen or heard from the media and they check it out.

Washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker If you trust traditional media, then the Washington Post is your source where reporters adhere to journalistic standards. Nothing is reported without three independent sources. They give out Pinocchio's as a rating for falsehoods.

Interestingly, one of our email group is a school librarian. She was amused at the furor of "reply alls" as we sorted this out. Her take?

"

What fun to see you all performing the librarian's job of fact checker! We all suffer from the great malaise - confirmation bias. Someone needs to write about this...
Thanks for providing a bit of levity today - I really needed it! And thanks for the nice list of fact checking sites. I will share them with students tomorrow giving Laurie and Susan full credit."

Yes, whenever we can, we should cite our sources.